U.S. Stocks Inch Higher After a Big Two-Day Rally

NEW YORK (AP) -

Oil and gas companies led the stock market up Friday, helping the Standard & Poor’s 500 index notch its second-best week this year.

With little news to give them direction, traders continued to push indexes higher. That extended a rally from Wednesday when the Federal Reserve said it was in no hurry to hike interest rates.

“What a very crazy week,” said Sam Stovall, chief equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ.

Benchmark U.S. crude bounced up from recent lows, climbing $2.36 to settle at $56.52 a barrel in N.Y., as traders bet that a 6-month plunge in prices had gone too far. Chevron, Denbury Resources and other energy companies led nine of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 to gains.

Nike’s stock dropped $2.24, or 2 percent, to $94.84, posting results that beat Wall Street’s forecasts late Thursday, but a drop in orders from Japan and developing markets in Asia overshadowed an otherwise strong quarter.

The S&P 500 gained 9.42 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,070.65, bringing its weekly gain to 3.4 percent.

The Nasdaq composite picked up 16.98 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,765.38, and the Dow Jones industrial average rose 26.65 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,804.80.

At the start of the week, slumping oil prices and the state of the world economy were investors’ main worries. A plunge in the Russian currency, the ruble, added to a sense of unease.

The turnaround came Wednesday, when Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, said she saw no reason to hike interest rates in early 2015 and that the central bank would be “patient” in deciding when to raise rates from near zero. Her comments eased concerns that the Fed would start raising rates when growth in other major economies has looked weak. Traders celebrated, driving the S&P 500 up 4.5 percent over two days.

Stock markets in Asia climbed in the wake of the big gains in Europe and the U.S. on Thursday. Japan’s Nikkei 225 jumped 2.4 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi added 1.7 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 1.3 percent.

Back in the U.S., strong quarterly results from Red Hat drove its stock up 11 percent, the biggest gain in the S&P 500. Red Hat reported better earnings and sales than analysts had expected late Thursday. Its stock soared $6.54 to $68.04.

CarMax jumped 11 percent after the used-car dealership posted a 22 percent surge in its quarterly profits thanks to higher sales. The company’s results beat analysts’ estimates, sending its stock up $6.79 to $67.32.

U.S. government bond prices rose, nudging yields down. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note slipped to 2.16 percent.

In the commodity markets, gold edged up $1.20 to $1,196 an ounce, while silver added 10 cents to $16.03 an ounce. Copper rose 3 cents to $2.88 a pound.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose $2.11 to close at $61.38 in London.

In other futures trading on the N.Y. Mercantile Exchange:

Wholesale gasoline rose 3.3 cents to close at $1.560 a gallon.

Heating oil rose 2.3 cents to close at $1.962 a gallon.

Natural gas fell 17.8 cents to close at $3.464 per 1,000 cubic feet. Forecasts for a mild winter, have pushed natural gas to its lowest price since November 2013.